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Syrian refugees with their belongings walk to register at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, yesterday.
Damascus/moscow: The Syrian regime is ready for talks with armed rebels and anyone who favours dialogue, President Bashar Al Assad’s foreign minister said in Moscow yesterday, in the first such offer by a top Syrian official.
Foreign Minister Walid Al Muallem was in Moscow for talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, whose country is one of the few big powers to still maintain ties with Assad’s regime.
Russia has renewed calls for rebels and regime to engage in direct negotiations to end the two-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, warning that pressing for a military victory risked destroying Syria.
“We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms,” Muallem said at the talks with Lavrov.
Armed rebels have battled the Assad regime since the start of the opposition’s uprising against his rule in March 2011 and now control swathes of Syrian territory.
“We still believe in a peaceful solution to the Syrian problem,” said Muallem, pointing to the creation of a government coalition that would negotiate with both the “external and internal opposition.”
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition has dropped its boycott of talks with John Kerry, William Hague and other western backers in Rome this week after promises of substantially increased aid, western diplomatic sources have said.
The leader of the opposition National Coalition, Moaz Al Khatib, informed the Italian government yesterday that he had persuaded his partners to attend a “Friends of Syria” meeting in the Italian capital, reversing an announcement on Sunday that the group would stay away from all such talks because of the international community’s failure to end the bloodshed.
The move came after Kerry, the US secretary of state, phoned Khatib urging him to attend.
Kerry, in London on his first foreign trip since becoming secretary of state, said he was sensitive to the frustration of the Syrian opposition, but promised new American support for the National Coalition would “come to maturity by the time we meet in Rome”. Other US measures would be discussed in the Italian capital if the opposition took part in the Friends of Syria meeting, he said.
Kerry insisted US policy remained the pursuit of a political resolution, suggesting that direct military aid was not on the immediate agenda, but he added: “We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming.”
Khatib said: “We will reconsider the decision on the boycott in light of the strong message of support we and Syrian people got over the weekend.” He had been under fire from some in the coalition for his offer to open talks with the Damascus regime before the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, steps aside.
Rebels shot down a regime helicopter near a military airbase in the northern province of Aleppo yesterday, as warplanes pounded towns across the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“A helicopter was seen falling from the sky as it burst into flames after it was hit near Minnigh military airport,” which rebels have been trying to storm for months, the monitoring group said.
In the west of the province, rebels pressed on with attacks on a police academy, taking control of a building where troops were entrenched as warplanes tried to repel back, the Observatory said.
At least 46 combatants — 16 rebels including a battalion commander and 30 troops — were killed over the past 24 hours in the battle for the academy outside the town of Khan Assal, it said.
Elsewhere, the Britain-based Observatory said, warplanes bombarded the southwestern and eastern outskirts of Damascus in an protracted bid to dislodge rebels from their rear bases, killing two people, including a child.
Inside the capital, loyalist troops shelled the eastern opposition stronghold of Jobar as fierce clashes broke out in the southern district of Qadam.
In the northwestern province of Idlib, five civilians were killed and nine wounded as warplanes targeted a string of villages in the Jabal Zawiya area, it said.
Fighter jets also raided the towns of Dael and Mleiha in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that broke out in March 2011 and has left 70,000 dead, according to the United Nations.
In the mainly Kurdish province of Hasake, the jihadist Al Nusra Front and other rebels seized Tal Hamis after several days of heavy fighting and regime shelling that forced most of the town’s residents to flee, the Observatory said. On Sunday, at least 141 people, including 61 civilians, were killed in violence across Syria, according to the Observatory, which relies on a vast network of activists on the ground and medics.Agencies